‘My Life Just Stopped’Punishing Immigration Rule Leaves Families in Limbo
Sian Norris speaks to a family who will have been in the UK 33 years before they are granted indefinite leave to remain
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“Life just stopped,” says Nura (not her real name). “I had to stop work, I couldn’t pay my rent. I wasn’t entitled to benefits. I am a single mother. Everything went into limbo.”
As she describes her situation, Nura becomes increasingly upset. Soon she is in tears. “I’ve been so stressed,” she says, her voice shaking with emotion. “I tried to take my own life. My son tried to take his own life”.
Nura came to the UK when she was just 19 and newly married. She was excited to start her life in the UK, finding a job she loved in the NHS and soon having her first child. “As soon as I arrived in the UK I started working,” she explains. “I loved my job. I just want to work”.
In 2012, Nura was put on a new type of visa route known as the 10-year route. The policy was introduced by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary as part of her policy platform known as the ‘hostile environment’.
The route grants a migrant person with indefinite leave to remain after 10 years in the UK. Those on the route have no recourse to public funds, meaning they cannot access state support, including cost of living crisis support measures.
During the 10 year period, people like Nura must reapply for their visa every 2.5 years and pay £2,608, which includes the £1,560 NHS surcharge that allows migrant people to access NHS care. For many, the costs add up – leading to debt, poverty, and in Nura’s case, the loss of her status all together.
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Five years ago, Nura’s visa came up for renewal, but she was £30 short of the required fee. Having left an abusive relationship, she was raising her teenage son and still working, but times were tough.
The £30 shortfall meant her visa application was refused. Nura lost her right to work, and because she had no recourse to public funds she was not entitled to state benefits. Her son, a British citizen who dreamed of going to university, has left education to get a job so he can support her.
It’s this that hurts her most of all. “He had dreams that have been put on hold,” she explains.
Nura found a solicitor who has helped her reapply and get back on the 10-year route. But the clock has reset and now she must wait another decade, paying the fees and reapplying every 2.5 years, before she is granted leave to remain. By the time that period expires, she will have lived in the UK for 33 years – the majority of her life.
Thousands Trapped in Poverty
Nura is not alone.
There are 170,000 people on the 10-year route in the UK. New research from the charity Praxis, which supports migrant people and refugees, has revealed more than half of people on the 10-year route are struggling to afford food and bills.
As well as financial pressures, the charity found that a third reported feeling “completely insecure” despite having lived in the UK for nearly a decade, and two-thirds experienced “stress and anxiety” every 2.5 years when their visa was up for renewal. As Nura’s case shows, renewal is not guaranteed, even if you are working, even if you have lived here for years, even if your child was born here.
It’s now 10 years since the route was introduced, which means that “it’s only really now that we’re seeing the full extent of what living with a very insecure immigration status actually means for someone’s life,” explains Praxis’ Policy and Public Affairs Manager Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz to Byline Times.
Whitaker-Yilmaz identifies four main concerns with the policy. The first is that people on the route have no recourse to public funds, leaving them with no safety net if something goes wrong. The second is the length of the route. The third is the need to renew the visa every 2.5 years.
“Two and a half years is not actually very long,” she explains. “If you’re looking for a permanent job or if you’re doing any kind of job, and you’ve only got a few months left on your visa it puts you at a big disadvantage with employers. It puts you at a disadvantage with landlords. And it creates a feeling of insecurity because ultimately you don’t know whether your visa is going to get renewed or not every 30 months”.
The final area of concern is “the complexity of the immigration system,” she continues. “Visa applications are not easy to fill out and it’s very hard for people to get legal advice, which can be expensive and there’s a shortage of immigration solicitors in the UK. People really, really struggle and even a small mistake in an application can mean that you accidentally get rejected and then you effectively lose your status”.
This was Nura’s situation.
“I was working, I had got out of a domestic violence situation, I was paying my rent,” Nura says. “I had recommendation letters from my colleagues in the NHS, they were giving me a new contract. And because I didn’t have this £30, my life has taken this massive drop”.
Praxis hopes the research will raise awareness of the insecurity caused by the 10-year route. They are calling for the route to be reduced to five years, with a person’s visa needing renewal at that point, in order to get indefinite leave to remain.
“That would make a huge difference to individuals,” explains Whitaker-Yilmaz. ‘It would also relieve some of the burden on the Home Office”.
At the same time, Whitaker-Yilmaz hopes to see the fee burden reduced. “The fees are crippling for a lot of people,” she insists. “We’d recommend reducing the fees to cover the admin cost only. The cost that the applicant pays is three times higher than the Home Office’s admin cost”.
For now, Nura hopes to soon be back on the 10-year route, which will give her the right to work once again.
The thought offers some comfort. But it’s a long road and she will be in her 50s by the time she has status. Even once she returns to work and her son can go to university, the mental health toll of the last few years weighs heavy.
“I loved every single day working,” she tells Byline Times. “And that was taken away from me. I feel isolated now. I don’t see some of my friends anymore. I couldn’t tell people what my problem was. I’d love to get my life back, to get back to my community. My health isn’t good but I know that when I do something, I can be great at it”.
This article was updated at 10am on 3 March to correct the fees figure from £1,560 to £2,608